Chart Beat

Harry Styles' 'Fine Line' Leads 2020's Record-Breaking Year for Vinyl Album Sales in U.S.

Harry Styles
Helene Pambrun

Harry Styles

For the 15th year in a row, U.S. vinyl album sales increased.

Harry StylesFine Line helped U.S. vinyl album sales achieve yet another banner year -- their highest total in 30 years of tracking -- as the set closed 2020 as the top-selling vinyl album, according to MRC Data. The set sold 232,000 copies on vinyl during the tracking year (Jan. 3 through Dec. 31, 2020).

Vinyl album sales totaled 27.54 million in 2020, up 46.2% compared to 2019. 2020 marked the 15th consecutive year vinyl album sales grew, and the largest year for vinyl album sales since MRC Data began tracking sales in 1991. Vinyl LP sales also saw their best sales week ever in the MRC Data era, when 1.84 million vinyl albums were sold in the week ending Dec. 24, 2020.

Vinyl LP sales were the third-biggest-selling album format in 2020, trailing two formats that both declined: CDs (40.12 million; down 26%) and digital albums (34.39 million; down 12.5%).

Strikingly, overall album sales, across all formats (CD, digital album, vinyl LP, cassettes, etc.) had their smallest yearly decrease since 2015. In 2020, total album sales fell just 9.2% to 102.4 million – the first time yearly sales dropped by less than 10% since 2015, when volume fell by just 6% (aided by huge sales for Adele’s 25 album).

Overall album sales have been falling steadily since 2012, as consumers increasingly turn to streaming services to enjoy music.

Vinyl LP sales accounted for over a quarter of all album sales in 2020: 26.9% (27.54 million of 102.4 million). Notably, vinyl LP sales comprised a robust 40.5% of all physical albums sold in the U.S. in 2020 (27.54 million of 68.01 million). Both sums represent MRC Data-era records for vinyl’s share of the album sales market.

In 2020, there were a total of 51 albums that sold at least 50,000 copies on vinyl – up from just 23 in 2019.

TOP 10 SELLING VINYL ALBUMS OF 2020 IN U.S.
1. Harry Styles, Fine Line (232,000)
2. Billie Eilish, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? (196,000)
3. Queen, Greatest Hits (176,000)
4. The Beatles, Abbey Road (161,000)
5. Soundtrack, Guardians of the Galaxy, Awesome Mix, Vol. 1 (152,000)
6. Bob Marley and The Wailers, Legend: The Best Of… (148,000)
7. Fleetwood Mac, Rumours (138,000)
8. Billie Eilish, Dont Smile at Me (126,000)
9. Michael Jackson, Thriller (125,000)
10. Kendrick Lamar, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City (117,000)
Source: MRC Data, for the tracking period Jan. 3, 2020, through Dec. 31, 2020.

Of 2020’s total vinyl LP sales, a leading 11.24 million came via the non-traditional sector of the market, which includes Internet-based retailers (Amazon, etc.), mail order and direct-to-consumer sales (such as an artist’s official webstore). That total of non-traditional vinyl LP sales grew 52.5% in 2020, up from 7.37 million in 2019.

Despite COVID-19 complications causing many physical record stores having to reimagine how they did business in 2020, the second-largest seller of vinyl album were brick-and-mortar independent record stores, with 10.94 million sold (up 45.6%). That number was likely goosed by Record Store Day’s (RSD) four separate promotions in 2020 at indie stores (three RSD drops, along with RSD Black Friday).

Mass merchants, such as Target and Walmart, were the third-largest seller of vinyl in 2020, with 3.81 million sold (up 98.5%). The tremendous growth at mass merchants is owed to Target and Walmart’s continued expansion into the vinyl market over the past few years, with both retailers dedicating more in-store square footage to vinyl and selling their own exclusive variants of vinyl LPs.